Quietly, there is a revolution going on in Rwanda, in the form of fighting corruption. The zero tolerance to corruption in Rwanda has made President Paul Kagame’s country a shining star. Baffour Ankomah reports.
Imagine you are arriving at the major airport of an African country for the first time. You present your passport to the officer at one of the immigration booths. He looks at it and tells you to stand out of the queue. You wait and wait, your passport is not returned! After half an hour or so, you ask the immigration officer what is happening? He tells you to wait some more because your passport is with his senior officer at the back.
After what seems like another half an hour, your patience is running out, and you ask the officer, what in heaven is going on? He looks at you quizzically and says in pidgin English: “You speak your grammar! Na grammar I go chop?” – (meaning roughly, “you speak your Queen’s English, you think I eat Queen’s English here!”). And true to his word, and despite all the “grammar” you employ to explain that you are catching another flight the same afternoon and if your passport is delayed any further you will miss the connecting flight, your passport only resurfaces after two hours. The officer hands it back, no apology, nothing. But you have missed the connecting flight! This is not fiction. It happened to this writer, transiting through Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, for the first time in 1986. Unbeknown to this writer, the immigration officers at the airport were used to requesting (or getting) $10 and $20 notes inserted in passports handed to them by passengers. The money disappeared into the officers’ pockets, and passengers were waved through. But this writer, visiting for the first time, did not know the system, and so he missed his connecting flight!
Corruption of this kind may be at the lower rung of the list of corruption that should worry countries – after all, it is highlevel corruption that really sets back the development of countries, as the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon rightly pointed out on the last International Anti-Corruption Day, 9 December 2012. Yet, corruption of the kind described above eats at the soul of a country and affects a lot more people every day of their lives. As Ban Ki-moon puts it:
“Corruption destroys opportunities and creates rampant inequalities. It undermines human rights and good governance, stifles economic growth, and distorts markets.” He goes on: “The cost of corruption is measured not just in the billions of dollars of squandered or stolen government resources, but most poignantly in the absence of the hospitals, schools, clean water, roads and bridges that could have been built with that money and would have certainly changed the fortunes of families and communities. As the international community strives to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and forge an agenda for economic and social progress in the years beyond, addressing the problem of corruption becomes all the more urgent.” It is in this context that what has happened in Rwanda since 2004 has to be applauded. For all his sins, President Paul Kagame and his government have phenomenally stamped down on corruption to the level where Rwandans can now go about their daily lives without worrying that some official at the Kigali airport would tell them: “You speak your grammar! Na grammar I go chop?”
Rwanda’s impressive example should be emulated by other African countries. No wonder that the African Union’s Advisory Board on Corruption and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) chose Rwanda as the venue for Africa’s Anti-Corruption Week in December. “The choice of Rwanda was deliberate,” revealed Prof Said Adejumobi, head of UNECA’s Governance and Public Administration Division (GPAD). “Rwanda was chosen for its outstanding track record in the fight against corruption, not only in Africa, but globally. The lesson of Rwanda in its zero tolerance against corruption is that leadership and political will matters; independent and credible institutions are important; and citizens’ mobilisation and support is central in fighting corruption. Corruption is a powerful and insidious animal. You either fight and tame it, or it would fight you back.”
As part of the Anti-Corruption Week, UNECA organised a youth essay competition to solicit the views of Africa’s youngsters on how corruption should be fought. The three winners of the competition –
Master Tsepo Makakane (19) from Lesotho, Miss Pomovah Q. Welwean (16) from Liberia, and Miss Dina Randiamahefarison (14) from Madagascar – were presented with certificates and cash awards of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 respectively, in addition to being made “African Anti-Corruption Youth Ambassadors”.
Prof Adejumobi used the occasion to thank the Rwandan government for being the first in Africa to announce that, starting from 1 January 2013, all Africans, from whatever part of the continent, would be able to travel to Rwanda by getting a visa on arrival. “Rwanda has blazed the trail,” he said. “For the dream of pan-Africanism to be realised, Africans must be allowed and encouraged to pmove on the continent. It is only through this that the prospect of intra-Africa trade and regional integration becomes brighter.”
To understand how deep and widespread the tentacles of Rwanda’s anti-corruption campaign go, this writer interviewed the woman who is in charge of the campaign – the former chief justice of the country and now head of the powerful Office of the Ombudsman, Justice Cyanzayire Aloysie. She talked about how, since the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman in 2004, the people and public officials of the country have been conscientised about corruption and its impact. Her Office has also organised awareness campaigns on rights, they won’t allow officials to abuse those rights”, Justice Aloysie said.
To President Kagame’s credit, his government has taken the fight against corruption so seriously that it has encouraged all the districts in the country to be actively involved in the struggle against corruption. An annual competition and awards have been instituted for the districts at which, based on the marks they attain for their work on anti-corruption and good governance, they are given national recognition by way of trophies and certificates. “The anti-corruption campaign also focuses on the youth because they are the leaders of tomorrow,” Justice Aloysie said. “Thus, we train them to develop integrity in what they do. As a result, we organise anticorruption awareness campaigns in high schools and tertiary institutions, and we are also working with the Ministry of Education to include in the school curriculum a course on integrity which incorporates Rwandan values.”
The Office of the Ombudsman also cooperates with other institutions dealing with public procurement, mismanagement, and prosecution of offenders. “We work together in the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council, and we also cooperate with civil society, the media, and religious groups,” Justice Aloysie said. “Religious groups organise public forums to denounce corrupt practices, and they encourage their followers to fight against corruption wherever they are,” she added. “We also work with the private sector, because it is there that grand corruption takes place, especially in public procurement where government institutions buy from the private sector, and also in paying taxes.”
By law, the Office of the Ombudsman has the mandate to investigate any public official for corruption, and it routinely does so when alerted to it. “Apart from getting our information from regular operational audits,” Justice Aloysie disclosed, “we get other information from informants. In fact, we use different channels to get information on corruption. For example, we have a website where people can report corrupt activities. We also have anti-corruption internet cafés where people can go and use toll-free email access to report corruption to my office.”
After her office has done its investigations, it passes on the dossier to the Prosecution Authority which has the right to prosecute. But because sometimes there are delays in prosecuting cases (arising from the heavy workload of the Prosecution Authority), there is a bill before parliament to give the Ombudsman’s office prosecution powers of its own.
When I asked Justice Aloysie if her Office could prosecute, say, the president’s wife, if she involved herself in corruption, she answered: “Of course!” But the ombudsman cannot prosecute the president himself for corruption because he has immunity while in office. “It is parliament that has the power to impeach him, my office cannot do it,” Aloysie explained. Since 2004, the ombudsman has prosecuted a number of top officials, including ministers and generals. Justice Aloysie praises the president and his government for backing her office up with the “political will” to fight corruption. “So I don’t feel intimidated at all because I am backed by the political will of the government, the president, and the people of this country to fight corruption.”
It is mandatory for all high-level officials, from the president down to judges and director-generals in ministries, to declare their assets before, during, and after, leaving office. “Also all civil servants in charge of the management of public funds have to declare their assets,” Justice Aloysie added. “We investigate the origins of their assets to make sure that what they have declared on paper matches their wealth in reality.” Rwanda’s Leadership Code of Conduct prescribes that every 30 June, the relevant officials hand in their assets declaration forms to the Office of the Ombudsman. If they fail to meet the deadline, sanctions are taken against them in the form of a warning, suspension, 25% cut in salary, dismissal, public denouncement, and finally prosecution. When the anti-corruption campaign started in 2004, some officials blankly refused to declare their assets, but as stiff punishments continue to be imposed for refusal, today everybody who has to declare his or her assets does so without fail. Assets declaration forms are kept secret, but the Ombudsman Office does routine on-the-field investigations to confirm what has been declared by the officials.
“In conducting investigations,” Justice Aloysie revealed, “we can go to the neighbours of the officials concerned, we can consult other citizens who know the officials, we can go to the banks where the officials have accounts to check on the status of those accounts, and we also work with the Lands Office where every piece of land sold or bought in this country is registered. Regarding the ownership of cars, we can get information from the Tax Office where the details of cars are also lodged. So you can’t hide.” Because of this zero-tolerance, corruption has been reduced considerably in Rwanda. “This is evidenced by the indices published by Transparency International, the World Bank’s Government Indicator, the East African Bribery Index, and others. All of these indices show a sharp decline of corruption in Rwanda,” a proud Justice Aloysie said.
“For example, in 2008,” she continued, “on Transparency International’s index, Rwanda was 102 on the list; in 2009 we were 89th; in 2010 we were 66th, and in 2011 we were 49th. So you can clearly see the progression. We are defeating corruption.” It is a long time since this writer saw such a proudwoman. Part of the credit though should go to President Paul Kagame.